With all the scary things that have been happening in the news lately, I've had a few mums ask me how I handle talking to the kids about certain world issues and answering their questions.
Our four kids range from 5 to 11 and a half, so the way we explain things to each child is completely different. Our 7 year-old will cry at the drop of a hat and is very sensitive; Our 9 year-old gets scared really easily; Our 5 year-old doesn't really understand that much and tends to react in the same way as the others are reacting, while our eldest is likely to ask a lot of questions and is very open to talking.
It's actually quite funny seeing how they all react so differently to potentially frightening situations. Recently my husband cut his finger open while cutting down a tree in our back yard. He came through the back door with his hand elevated, covered in blood.
Our 7 year-old instantly burst into tears because she hates people being hurt.
Our 9 year-old was terrified his Dad was going to die and kept asking for reassurances that he wasn't going to expire there and then on the lino.
Interestingly, our 5 year-old took the scientific approach and wanted to examine the damage so she could see what was inside Dad's finger.
And our 11 year-old, once she'd gotten all the facts on what happened, proceeded to have a shower. Then when we asked her to hurry up, as we needed to get Dad to Emergency, she replied "I'm going as fast as I can, cleansing is important you know!"
At least they keep us entertained.
When it comes to asking questions about world issues though, my first reaction is wanting to shelter them from it all. I've learnt though, that as they get older they do become more curious and it's important to feed them facts, without overloading them; I find with the younger ones that keeping it short is key.
Using age-appropriate language is essential too. I'm not going to go ahead and tell them that America and North Korea are planning to try and kill each other with these things called nuclear weapons and God help us all! Or that during our recent floods when our backyard was slowly filling with water, that we may need to hijack a boat in order to get out and get food supplies.
Making them feel safe and never dismissing their fears, no matter how unfounded they seem to us, is hugely important. And by staying calm and not over-reacting in front of them, you help them to react accordingly too.
If you don't know the answer to a question, like me every single night when my 9 year-old needs help with his Math homework, don't pretend or make up an answer. Make it a point to inform yourself and give them the right facts and information.
It's also important to empower children. My kids have a lot of empathy for others and reach out to help people when they see something horrible has happened to them. Allow them to help and suggest things they can do to make a difference, for example by donating clothes, toys and food to flood or bushfire victims. Encourage them to have compassion.
At the end of the day, as a parent, you know your own kids better than anyone and how they react in certain situations. It's important to guide them, answer their questions frankly with age appropriate answers and strive to make them feel safe and comfortable.